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Idaho exchange board: Average policy costs $240

John Miller, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Health insurance policies sold via Idaho's insurance exchange starting Jan. 1 will cost around $240 monthly, a figure based on packages submitted so far to the state Department of Insurance by insurers aiming to participate.

The figure, announced Thursday at an Idaho Insurance Exchange board meeting in Boise, is an average and doesn't reflect actual costs for individual policy holders. That will depend on their financial circumstances, age and the benefits package they choose via the exchange, the federally mandated Internet portal where individuals and businesses with fewer than 50 employees may purchase coverage.

But it offers a first glimpse of how President Barack Obama's plan to provide health insurance coverage to more Americans will impact thousands of Idaho residents' pocketbooks. Exchange board chairman Stephen Weeg predicted people will have a multitude of coverage choices. The deadline to begin enrolling participants is Oct. 1.

"The good news is, there are a number of plans," Weeg said.

Specific details of policies won't be released until after July 31, the deadline for Idaho's Department of Insurance to submit the policies to the federal government for review. But a few guidelines are known.

For instance, a family of four making $60,000 headed by a 40-year-old would likely be eligible for a government tax credit of $7,193 toward their annual premium of $12,130. That means they'd pay $4,937, about 8 percent of their income, or $410 monthly. Meanwhile, lower-income families would make lower payments, with help from the government's sliding-scale subsidies provided for those who earn less than 400 percent of the poverty line.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who is a member of the 19-person exchange board, said people's ages will help set their monthly costs, too.

"There will be advantages for older people," Rusche said, compared to individual coverage plans they can purchase now on the open market.

But premiums likely will be "slightly higher for younger, healthier people," compared to open market plans, he said.

It's unclear how many people will eventually use Idaho's exchange, but the Department of Insurance estimates 190,000 residents will eligible. Some 102,000 people from this group currently have no insurance.

About 88,000 already have insurance through individual plans, as opposed to coverage offered through Idaho companies or government. But as many as three-quarters of those in this group, roughly 66,000 people, may be eligible for the federal subsidies, making them more likely to switch to a policy sold via the exchange.

Given this uncertainty, the exchange board on Thursday voted to assess a 1.5 percent fee on each policy sold over Idaho's exchange, in hopes of raising $10 million needed annually for exchange operations to be self-sufficient once federal assistance ends in 2016.

They left open the possibility of altering the fee after 2014, depending on how many enroll and the actual cost of running the exchange, to make sure there's sufficient cash.

"The number we're shooting for is really all over the place," said Tom Shores, a Boise insurance agent and board member.

The main thing, exchange board members said Thursday, was setting Idaho's fee at a level less than the 3.5 percent-per-policy charge the federal government plans for 27 states that have opted to have the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services run an insurance exchange for them.

Idaho's ability to operate an exchange more cheaply than the federal government was a key selling point for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter during the 2013 Legislature when he pushed reluctant lawmakers to adopt a state-based exchange, as opposed to a federal version he said would leave Idaho with too little say in its operations.

"There were over a dozen areas we were told we'd be able to maintain state control over, with a state exchange," said Jon Hanian, Otter's spokesman, on Friday. "That's why the governor pursued this, as the least-worst option."